“I thought I had lost you!”
Those words were quietly spoken by Myrna’s biological son and my covenant son, Joshua about two years ago.
Those same words came rushing back to us as we attended a summit for leaders ministering to blended families. One of the workshops Myrna and I attended was related to ministering to pre-stepfamilies. Here’s the idea: just as a couple may either take a class or go to premarital counseling before getting married, so should a couple forming a blended family. If it is wise for a couple to get training or counseling on the basics of marriage before they get married, then it is wise for a couple bringing in kids from a previous relationship to also get training or counseling before blending a family. This is needed because you are not just blending the lives of two people, but of families. As we listened to Ron Deal of FamilyLife Blended, the workshop leader, both Myrna and I looked at each other and wondered, why didn’t someone tell us this when we were about to blend our two families?
Ron said something else that struck a cord and it was to the effect “As a couple see themselves getting closer in their relationship leading up to marriage they should intentionally lean in toward any biological children either of them may already have.” Our son Joshua would have appreciated that! That simple gesture would have reassured him of the relationship between him and Myrna.
What we learned is, as your biological child or children see you getting closer to your future spouse they may be unsure or unsettled about their relationship with you, creating fear and doubt. The fear, uncertainty and doubt are natural and need to be addressed. It is natural because most of us measure the quality of a relationship by time. We equate more time with a stronger relationship and less time with a weaker relationship. Having time as the main or only standard of a relationship becomes a problem, since you have the same amount of time but now your fiancé and child are competing for it.
Most couples don’t have to deal with the divided time issue during the dating period or at the beginning of the marriage but most remarried couples do. So what does a couple do if they find themselves in a situation when one or both are bringing kids into the marriage? First, let me says that both parties need to be active participants in this transitional period which will need to start sometime during the dating or engagement period. This is an issue that has to be addressed by both parties (biological and non-biological parent). While the biological parent is taking the lead, the non-biological parent needs to support the biological parent during this time and not make them feel guilty.
First, the biological parent needs to have one- on- one time with the child to discuss their new relationship and what things would look like if they got married. The biological parent needs to also ask the child to tell their true feelings about the relationship (keep in mind you may not hear it at that time but it will inevitably come at some point). It did with Joshua.
During this same time it is important to reassure that even though life will change, the fact remains that your love for them as your child is still there and is not going anywhere. Keep in mind that needs to be done with each child if more than one is involved and you probably will need to do this more than once during the transitional period to see how things are going.
Second, during the dating period be intentional and schedule outings that include the child or children before the wedding. This will allow the child to begin to see how they will be included in the new relationship before it is final in their eyes. Also, it will help ease them into sharing you with someone else.
Lastly, the non-biological parent needs to support the extra one- on- one time that the biological parent is spending during this transitional period with the child. This is not the time to be jealous or put a guilt trip on the biological parent. By both having the proper understanding and acceptance of what is going on in the child’s life at this time, the new couple can use this as a bonding agent for their relationship by working as a team on this issue. Why? Because there will be many other issues relating to the children that will come up and it is imperative that you are on the same page and that you see each other looking out for the best interest of the children even though you may have different perspectives.
Almost three years into our life as a blended family, Myrna and I admit we did not do a good job in this area with Joshua. The youngest of our four children, he was 17 when we married. As we were caught up in the new relationship forming we assumed at his age, he would be just fine. We all know that assumptions don’t always turn out. It is not good to assume but better to ask.
If you find yourself in the premarital stage then I would recommend the previous steps. If you find yourself like us recognizing you missed the mark after the fact, remember, it is not too late to acknowledge your mistake and do your best to demonstrate to your child (regardless of their age) that your love is still there in spite of the change that has occurred.
PS - Joshua is 19 now and is doing just fine. If you want to see for yourself, watch the Covenant Child video he helped to shoot and edit.